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Protecting rural Britain from online harms

A briefing note from the Countryside Alliance on online harms, prepared in advance of the Westminster Hall debate on 26 October.

  • Online bullying and harassment are issues of genuine concern that the Countryside Alliance has campaigned on for many years. We surveyed members and supporters as to their views of online bullying and harassment in late April 2022, following a previous exercise in 2018.
  • The Online Safety Bill entered its Report Stage in July but has yet to return for a second day, amid reports that the Government is re-thinking elements connected to freedom of speech. Its Remaining Stages are now provisionally scheduled for Tuesday 1 November.
  • Assuming it is not radically overhauled, the Countryside Alliance believes several improvements could be made that would allow it better to address the issue of activist-motivated online bullying and harassment, and thereby better safeguard the mental health and general wellbeing of potential victims.
  • The False communications offence should be widened to include, first, financial harm and second, harm to the person or organisation (including a business) to whom or to which the information in it related. This would address the issue of ideologically motivated false reviews of businesses and 'false flag' efforts, where disagreeable messages are sent under false branding to discredit the organisation that is purported to have sent it.
  • The interpretation of the communications offences should be broadened to include the incitement of others to online abuse, perhaps using language introduced in Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 to define the inchoate offence of incitement.
  • Schedule 4, which defines OFCOM's objectives in setting out Codes of Practice for regulated user-to-user services, should be expanded to require the body to consider the protection of individuals from communications offences committed by anonymous users.
  • Schedule 7 of the Bill should be expanded to include the new offences of Harmful communications, False communications and Threatening communications, listed in part 10, as priority offences for social media platforms to guard users against.

To read the briefing in full, please click here.

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